July 15, 2008
Dear fellow pilot,
Recently, this Corporation compared our current environment to the crisis of September 11 which led to the bankruptcy we entered nearly six years ago. My observation is that the bankruptcy storm was weathered on the backs of the pilots and other employees through our sacrifices. The company will not enjoy that same luxury to get through this latest crisis. The pilots and other employees simply have no more to give. Were tapped out. It is my belief that if the company expects to weather this storm, it must find a way to appeal to the employees goodwill, and it is my opinion that this employee group is not inclined to follow this management group anywhere.
No one disagrees that the environment today is different from that of last year, last month or even last week. The price of jet fuel sets record highs day after day. The price of an airline ticket is modestly increased, fuel surcharges are added, baggage fees are imposed and soda charges are collected. At home, the cost of gasoline to fuel the cars we drive to work moves upward; the loaf of bread, gallon of milk, and dozen eggs that we buy to feed our families cost more. In the workplace, our hours are longer and our pay remains stagnant while the cost of living skyrockets. We are confronted with maintenance challenges, we are confronted with scheduling challenges, and we are confronted with weather challenges. Yet, we continue to exhibit the highest degree of professionalism in providing our customers with safe, reliable transportation. For all our efforts, this company continues to display its total lack of respect of the front line employees who make this airline fly everyday.
For more than seven months your union has confronted this management with the undeniable fact that the contract you and I are currently burdened with is no longer acceptable, viable or sustainable. Despite being in the same environment, I dont have an answer when you ask, â€œWhy do Americans pilots make more than I do and still have their pension?â€? â€œWhy are Southwests pilots treated better by their management?â€? â€œWhat is it about Continentals management that they announce layoffs and in the same breath said they would forgo their salaries for the remainder of the year?â€? â€œWhy are we so different?â€?
We face a focused, hostile and arrogant management group: a management group that gives not a damn about you, your well-being, or the well-being of your family. A management group that has rewarded everyone but the frontline employees who make this airline fly everyday. They have rewarded themselves with exorbitant bonuses, they have rewarded the shareholders with untimely dividends and they have rewarded the banks with premium fees for the pre-payment of debt and covenant relief.
Since my election last October, your MEC leadership and I have been busy with many moving targets. Immediately after our election we learned that United was in serious talks with other airlines about possible mergers. In the event of any such merger, we took every necessary step to ensure that the United pilots would be included at the table of any merger talks. Had a palatable merger gone forward, we would have been successful in our goals of collective gains for our pilots. Subsequently, US Airways was, for us, a â€œno dealâ€? and we worked hard both in the public eye and behind the scenes to stop that merger. We no longer find ourselves in the merger arena.
Just more than seven months ago, in an effort to restore dignity, respect and financial sanity to our careers, your union took a new tack with this management team. We made it clear that there would be no more concessions from this pilot group, and we repeatedly pointed out to our executives that contented, motivated employees directly affect the bottom line. As recently as last week, I repeated once again that there would be no more concessions.
We have been asking the company to begin negotiations and open our contract earlier than traditionally required. The purpose for this repeated request should be obvious: we continue to live our lives and work our jobs under the onerous contract imposed upon us during bankruptcy. We did not willingly negotiate our present contract. We reluctantly agreed to it only under the duress of bankruptcy. This senior management group does not live under the same contract or even the same environment that we continue to live under. Managements bankruptcy ended in February 2006. Ours goes on and on with no end in sight. They give not a damn.
We have been attempting to negotiate quality-of-life and fatigue mitigation improvements to our contract since January 1st. As recently as May 22nd we exchanged a proposal that would significantly improve your working life in hopes that the company would recognize the value of your goodwill. These negotiations have been slow and unproductive. Most of the focus over the past few weeks has been on the furlough mitigation agreement in which we reached closure on July 10th. While these negotiations led to the recently ratified agreement, what was contained in that agreement was meager at best. As I said in my recent video message of June 25th, many of the items contained are offered out of hand by most companys that find themselves in a similar situation without any negotiation. This management feels, and continues to feel that any â€œgainâ€? no matter how large or small, must be â€œoffset,â€? management-speak for concession.
I hold out little hope for improvements on the remaining issues. On a pilot early retirement plan (PERP), the company is so far away from a realistic proposal I have instructed the Negotiating Committee to cease discussions on the subject. On the quality-of-life and fatigue mitigation items, items which are of no cost to the company, I have also instructed the Negotiating Committee to cease discussions as each and every counter proposal by the company has contained â€œoffsets.â€? There will be no offsets. When the company realizes that happy, motivated pilots â€œoffsetâ€? the costs associated, if any, with quality-of-life improvements and fatigue mitigation, then and only then will you see improvements in your daily work lives.
We all have known that this management group is inept when it comes to the operational side of the airline. Uniteds environment is exasperated by this managements failure to adequately plan and prepare for the future. While other airlines have hunkered down and saved cash to weather the economic storm, Uniteds senior managers squander money on themselves and unwarranted dividends. While other airline executives have foregone salaries during these times, Uniteds executives continue to reward their poor business decisions with millions of dollars. While other airlines are grounding fuel-inefficient airplanes and replacing them with newer more fuel efficient aircraft, United announces a plan to ground up to 100 aircraft, increase its express flying and lay off thousands of employees. While other airlines acknowledge the sacrifices its employees have made in the past, United dismisses the sacrifices of its employees and instead demands more. While other airlines concentrate on reducing costs in todays price-sensitive environment, United continues year after year with the highest costs in the industry. While other airlines concentrate on customer satisfaction, United lags the industry in nearly all consumer ratings.
At the Merrill-Lynch Transportation Conference held June 18 in New York, United unveiled their latest plan. Entitled Back To Basics, here are the goals management sees to getting United back on track: â€œIndustry-leading margin and cash flow, unrivaled customer satisfaction and experience, aligned employees, and world class safety performance.â€? Take another look at those goals, and decide for yourself how pilots contribute to them. Uniteds pilots contribute significantly to the â€œmargin and cash flow,â€? â€œunrivaled customer satisfaction and experienceâ€? and to the â€œworld class safety performance.â€? But those contributions go unrecognized and disrespected, except for the occasional hotdog in the domicile. Glenn Tilton justifies his high salary because of all the â€œhard workâ€? he claims to perform on behalf of this airline. His â€œhard workâ€? has resulted in our stock price down 91%, customer and service ratings in the toilet, and icy employee climate survey results.
There are many low-cost and no-cost items that would go a long ways towards improving pilots quality of life, creating goodwill and increasing the bottom line. Examples are opening the contract early to ensure its completion by the amendable date; an effective trip trading system with realistic flexibility; a realistic cap and minimum guarantee; downtown layovers that only cost just slightly more than 10% of management's recent stock take away; and offers to fly 90 seat United aircraft to offset the express RJ-50s that are financially draining - even more important now with the impending 737 groundings. But then this management gives not a damn.
United must learn that goodwill and respect for employees go a long way in a service industry. This company publicly desires the admiration equaling those of Fortune 500 companies but it is not willing to earn it. Respect cultivates respect; and contempt breeds contempt. Engaged employees make aligned employees. We are looking for a new beginning and believe this management group is missing a valuable opportunity by refusing to engage with its pilots and employees.
You will see renewed and focused efforts on the part of your union that will highlight the importance of United pilots contributions to this airline. Do not discount the efforts all of us make each and every day that enable this company to operate. We cannot get out from under the present contract on time if we do not begin our work now. Stay connected, get on board and be unified.
Captain Steve Wallach
Chairman, United MEC